Clarity Brings Compassion

I recently experienced what I will call an ‘awakened moment of clarity’ a few weeks ago. It is the closest thing to an enlightened state of being that I have had in my lifetime. It hit me out of nowhere, completely unexpectedly. I was literally standing on my balcony looking out at the trees in our backyard. In an instant, I felt an expansion in my heart and a flood of great joy. The feeling reminded me of the first time I saw my babies after giving birth. It was unconditional love. However, this love was directed at no particular person or thing. Those of you who are mothers and fathers might relate to this feeling. Until you welcome your own children into the world, you have no idea of your capacity to love so immensely, to feel so deeply connected to something or someone. It all changes in an instant, and life is never quite the same again.
There’s a saying that having children is “deciding forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” That’s how I felt in that moment. Although I have meditated for nearly fifteen years, this was unlike any meditation experience. I felt hyper aware of my surroundings, my bodily sensations, my breathing and the lack of thoughts in my mind. It was, for the first time in many months, extremely quiet in my head. I was at peace. I felt connected to everything and could viscerally sense the interconnectedness of all living things. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for being alive and a simultaneous awareness of my own mortality. I felt very raw and vulnerable. I still do.
When I next saw my children, I saw them not as my children, but as a part of our collective future and humanity. Our children. As their mother, I’ve been entrusted to nurture them, keep them healthy and safe, help them mature into the best possible humans. I have always enjoyed helping people grow to their full potential. I’ve been blessed with boy-girl twins, which makes the experience of motherhood doubly joyful. I realize now how precious and limited my time with them is. As the saying goes, the days with children are long but the years are short. It’s over in the blink of an eye. Ask any grandparent. longshort That Saturday I felt as though I had fresh eyes on the world, like I was seeing the world and the people in it with the unbiased and innocent eyes of a child. I turned on the news (bad idea when one is feeling vulnerable and open-hearted) and felt at once the pain, suffering and anger in the world. People dying, children starving, humans killing each other over beliefs of the mind that may or may not be true. We now have the power to destroy each other, our species along with all the other species on the planet, thanks to the evolution of our technology. Our technology evolution has far outpaced the evolution of our own humanity. We are now the most dangerous animals on Earth. And although we have the technology, human capital, financial capital, and intellectual capital to eradicate poverty, ensure no person dies of hunger, or preventable disease….where is the collective motivation from those who can help to do so?

Consider these statistics:

  • There are 842 million malnourished people in the world; 1 in 9 people on the planet remain hungry every day
  • Every four seconds, a human dies of hunger — usually a child
  • Millions of children live in poverty, affecting their long-term health, development, and economic future
  • There are over 200 million child laborers in the world. Many of them produce the goods you and I consume every day, from toys to clothes to carpets to sports equipment. More than half of the World’s 200 million working children are working under hazardous conditions.
  • More than 702 million people have no access to a safe source of drinking water
  • More than 2 million children under the age of 5 will die this year, over 3 million are undernourished
  • More than 300,000 mothers will die in childbirth this year
  • More than 10 million women will suffer injury, infection or disease from childbirth this year
  • Over 140 million girls and women suffer from female genital mutilation, a barbaric, preventable, medically unnecessary procedure
  • Over 225 million women who want to avoid pregnancy lack access to safe and affordable birth control, contributing to a cycle of poverty among young girls who get pregnant too soon, die in childbirth, and leave school before getting a full education.  Most of these women live in the 69 poorest countries on earth. Why can’t we give them free contraceptives?

Now consider the fact that a handful of our population (1%) controls more than HALF the wealth in the world. Let me repeat, 1% of the world’s population owns more wealth than the other 99%. The wealthiest 80 people in the world own the same amount of wealth as more than 3.5 billion people.  Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 9.38.29 AM I realized the gross inequity and income disparity in our world today with a lens of awareness I had not held before. There is no lack of resources, whether human, capital or technological that could be applied to solve these problems. The billions in wealth from dozens of “unicorn” companies here in Silicon Valley could immediately make a dent in these problems. Yet why are all these talented minds trying to build the next hook-up app, or gaming distraction, or disappearing social messaging tool….as though these are the most pressing societal problems to solve? Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 10.26.08 AM

I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, five minutes from Sand Hill Road — the Land of the Midas List. There are no fewer than ten billionaires living within a one mile radius of my home. I am not one of them. If ever that happens, I will swiftly join Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge to give all of it away. A la Warren Buffet, Tim Cook, Bill & Melinda Gates. Kudos to Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest to pledge so far. Because seriously, who cannot live, love and be happy with a mere half-billion dollars or a few hundred million? What could you possibly buy with that much unproductive wealth? How much do you really want to spoil your children and your grandchildren, and would they be better human beings from it (or rotten?). How many humans could you feed, vaccinate, educate, empower with technology tools to create economic engines to alleviate the problems above and below? There is so much hard work to be done, with so many brilliant minds in our backyard who could hack solutions for these eight problems…maybe not in a weekend, but perhaps over a year’s time with only 10% of their time devoted to it during working hours. Give your money, give your time, give both. givingpledgeOne startup near and dear to my heart called Watsi, built out of Y Combinator just a couple of years ago. I was one of their first donors because they crowdfund donations for medical treatments for underserved people all over the world. My $100 donation helped a seventeen-year-old mother from Kenya receive maternal healthcare to ensure a safe delivery. After a smooth delivery with no complications, she and her new baby did well. She was comforted by having a skilled attendant by her side during the birth and is grateful to have delivered in a hospital. Most women in the developing world are not so fortune. Many women walk miles to a hospital during labor to deliver their babies. This woman received maternity care for $100, the price of a nice meal out with my husband. It puts things into sobering perspective. I can never look at a hundred dollars in the same way again. Could you spare some of your money to fund life-saving, life enhancing treatments for those who cannot afford it? My heart broke open over and over.

I wept like I have never wept before in my life. It was as though the floodgates of grief and suffering experienced by these billions of people…the women, children, elderly, war-torn, displaced, underserved and forgotten…came pouring through me.  I returned to work the next Monday with a renewed sense of perspective on my calling in the world. I remembered the quote by Mark Twain, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I had re-discovered and re-affirmed my “why”. Why am I here? I will never look at the world the same way again, nor my part in it. I believe we get one, limited lifetime on this planet Earth. No do-overs, no “try again next time” second chances… ONE shot. Better make it count. What will I do with the precious time I have left on this planet? Come back and visit for what happens next… P.S. Why are you here? What is your calling? Have you found it or lost it along the way? I did, but got it back. Would love to hear from you. You’re not alone.